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Health & Wellness

The dangers of salt poisoning in pets

It’s important to keep them away from seasoned foods and salty waters.

Whether you’re taking a trip to your favorite beach or sneaking your pet some table food, it’s important to be mindful of their salt intake. Believe it or not, salt can actually be toxic to pets.

Too much salt can lead to some serious long-term health issues in animals — here are some steps to take to keep them safe and avoid overconsumption of sodium.

Salt poisoning in dogs and cats

Table salt, for one, can cause poisoning in pets due to the amount of electrolyte sodium. Other sources of salt toxicity (aka hypernatremia) in animals include paintballs, rock salt, enemas and seawater. 

“Salt poisoning is most often caused by not being able to drink enough water after losing excessive fluids through vomiting, diarrhea, burn injuries or in the urine,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, veterinary consultant for Fetch, says. “The other cause is excessive sodium intake through drinking sea water, eating items that are very high in sodium (like table salt), overdosing on hypertonic saline (a very concentrated saline solution) through intravenous (IV) fluid or in an enema.”

In the case you find your dog vomiting or suffering from diarrhea after long walks on the beach, they were likely drinking the salt water. Make sure you bring along an extra bottle of water for your pup and offer them a fresh drink frequently. 

“If they’re refusing to drink, you can try adding water to their food or using a fountain to encourage them to drink more,” Dr. Singler says. “If they’re vomiting, having diarrhea or showing any signs of not feeling well, see your vet promptly so they can be treated before they become overly dehydrated.”

Signs and symptoms of salt toxicity

So what does a pet look like if they're suffering from salt toxicity? Common signs include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, incoordination, excessive thirst, excessive urination, tremors, seizures and sometimes death. 

Of course, there's usually an indication that they got into something that may have caused the salt poisoning. You may even be able to see remnants of what they ate in their diarrhea. 

RELATED: What human foods can cats eat?

How to treat salt poisoning in pets

Call your vet right away if you suspect that your pet ate or drank something with high salt content. Your vet will do a thorough exam, may recommend inducing vomiting if recent ingestion occurred and will likely recommend blood work. 

Treatment involves hospitalization, careful IV fluid therapy, treating nausea or vomiting and re-establishing electrolyte balances. 

“Pets that aren’t vomiting and that can drink can also be given fresh water,” Dr. Singler says. “Animals usually need to stay in the hospital and be monitored closely. It’s also important to determine what caused the salt poisoning and treat that if needed.”

In salt poisoning, there’s a concern for brain swelling, so it’s important that your pet remains in your vet’s care until electrolyte balances are restored.

Salt toxicity can be life threatening to pets

The sooner you can get your pet to a veterinary hospital and begin therapy, the better. 

“If you think your pet has salt poisoning, take them straight to your vet or your local emergency clinic,” Dr. Singler says. “If their signs are mild and they’re alert and not vomiting, you can offer small amounts of fresh water frequently as you make plans to see your vet.”  

Knowing what your pet ate or drank is really helpful for your vet when determining a treatment plan, so make a note of what it was, how much you think they ate and how long ago they ate it. Also, be prepared to call an animal poison control hotline, if your vet recommends it, to get proper guidance on the appropriate treatment of your pet.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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